foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

Amazon S3 outage: Almost 7 hours and counting

, posted: 21-Jul-2008 10:44

Today has been a bad day for many web-sites and startups across the Internet. The reason? An Amazon S3 outage, which started some 7 hours ago (around 9 am US-west-coast time), and which is still not fully resolved. According to Amazon's status dashboard, they have finally managed to get the European service back online again, but are still working on the US service.

For those of you who are not familiar with Amazon S3: It's a cloud-computing service from Amazon (yes, THE Amazon that we normally only know as an online book and music store). It allows for cheap, and usually reliable on-demand online storage. It's one of several offerings from Amazon in that space, which also includes Amazon EC2 (on-demand computing) and others.

These cloud-services are popular, because they allow you to build massively scalable architectures without having to spend a dime on hardware. You only pay for the storage or the computing capacity you use in their data centres. For example, in EC2 you can bring up new instances of virtual GNU/Linux servers when you need them during times of high demand, and shut them down when the load has lessened. You pay for uptime of instances (a few cents per hour), stored gigabytes per month (also just a few cents) and transmitted data (few cents per gigabyte).

One of the most high-profile victims of the current S3 outage is Twitter: Images, such as avatars of users, are currently not being served, because they are all stored on S3.

I have been following Amazon's services for a while now and had a chance to experiment with them. I am impressed by how powerful the concept is and how well it normally works. I also believe that Amazon learns from glitches like this and manages to improve their system as a result of it. But nevertheless, it is still relatively young, and so apparently not all issues are sorted out yet.

Needless to say, a 6 or 7 hour outage means a lot of egg on Amazon's face. That's not the kind of publicity they want. Still, though, if you can think of strategies to soften the impact of outages of individual components in your architecture, I would still recommend the Amazon services if you are a startup in search for cheap and scalable computing and storage resources.

Update: Just as I posted this, I notice that the avatars on Twitter have started to appear again. Slowly, though, and only some of them so far. But it appears as if finally they are finishing off with the restauration of the US service as well. At 4 pm US west-coast-time, 11 am NZ time, Amazon advises that they estimate the service to be fully restored within one hour. That would make for a total outage duration of 8 hours. We will see.

Update 2:
At 5 pm US-west-coast-time (12 noon, NZ time), it appears as if S3 is fully operational again. Twitter got its avatars back, and many startups and web-based companies are finally back in business.

One of the comments on Twitter said it perfectly: "S3 sneezes and the cloud catches a cold." I really like that one. :-)


Other related posts:
More Apple madness (follow up)
The GPU, your personal desktop super computer
A truly light-weight OS: Written in ASM, with GUI, networking and apps

Comment by Jon Travis, on 21-Jul-2008 12:46

CloudStatus was able to detect this pretty quickly this morning. We put our writeup on the blog:

Comment by Mike, on 22-Jul-2008 05:17

"S3 sneezes and the cloud catches a cold." I'm getting tired of this, why doesn't S3 take the right medicine? Outages are too frequent with S3, I might switch over to a better cloud, maybe Nirvanix, they never get sick.

Author's note by foobar, on 22-Jul-2008 05:58

@Mike: But Nirvanix has 66% higher storage prices (for the 99.9% SLA), 80% higher upload prices and download prices that are 6% to 80% higher (depending on download volume). They do offer higher SLAs, but the upload and storage prices are going up greatly then.

So it appears that for the same level of service you pay significantly less at Amazon. And the fact that Nirvanix offers 99.9% and 99.99% SLAs seems to indicate that they DO go down, at least occasionally.

I just hope that Amazon is learning from whatever happened yesterday, because their prices are attractive ... at least as long as their service is attractive as well.

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New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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